As an LtN PD, the LtN Cup was something I heard about before even arriving in Nicaragua. Whether I was speaking with my boss Javier, Senior Program Director Dan, or players who have participated in LtN programs in the past, everyone around me regularly expressed their excitement for this day. Having an athletic background, I could recognize and share in this excitement for competition; however, prior to experiencing the LtN Cup for myself, I can honestly say I had no idea just how special this day is.
The Cup is one of LtN’s biggest fundraisers. On the day of the event, teams that we coach from the Chiquilistagua Public School compete against the teams we coach at Club Esperanza Private school in Villa Guadalupe in a championship style format. The goal of the Cup is to get each team sponsored in order to play. Through their team’s sponsorship, LtN student athletes are able to play an active role in giving back to their communities.
On a weekly basis, we hold practices for various ages, from 4th grade all the way up to the high school level. One thing I immediately noticed upon arriving at practices was the players’ unarguable passion for lacrosse, across all age groups. Whether it was answering questions during our life skills discussions before practice, mastering a new concept, or scoring a “tuani” goal on the field, the kids show a constant love for the game. When it came to their preparation for the Cup, their motivation alone triggered my own excitement.
The day of the Cup is like no other. Players from each school arrive together on a bus geared up and ready to go. Normally, these kids practice on a gravel-dirt mixture or a concrete basketball court. On the day of the Cup, they are greeted by the site of three turf fields with painted lines and music playing. The players are divided into their respective teams and enter the fields single file. This moment alone gave me goosebumps, reminding me of when I would suit up for games. The only difference was, this is a special occasion that only comes around once a year for these kids, and they are playing for so much more.
I had the honor of coaching team Managua this year, a group of players from Chiqui. While we did not have the age or size of some other groups, I saw performances in those players that I had never seen before. Millie is high school aged girl who is able to come to practice just once a week. During the Cup she was our star defender - chasing down fast breaks and stealing the ball from boys twice her size. Fourth grader, Jose, who was by far the smallest player on the field, scored a hatrick in our last regulation game which took us to the semifinals for Chiquilistagua. Every accomplishment on the field was celebrated by team Managua that day (my personal favorite being the seated rowboat with their sticks). I could not have been more proud of my team, not for their physical performance, but for the mere energy they brought and encouragement they provided each other.
Whether players were from Chiquilistagua or Club Esperanza, being able to represent where they were from incited a sense of belonging in their play. Each player's pride for their respective school and community was apparent in their demeanor. The desire to perform well and compete for their program really shown through. As a coach, there was nothing more gratifying than being able to witness all that their hard work amounted to.